Date of Award

May 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Patricia E. Stevens

Committee Members

Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, Teresa S. Johnson, Barbara J. Daley, Heather R. Royer


Abortion, Life Experiences, Narrative Analysis, Qualitative Inquiry, Sociopolitical Climate, Women


One out of every three women in the United States will experience abortion (Guttmacher Institute, 2008). The purposes of this feminist qualitative research were to: 1) examine historically the context of legal abortion in the United States, 2) describe and explore women's experiences of abortion and 3) better understand the historical impact of the sociopolitical climate on women's perceptions of their abortion experiences. An historical review of political, legislative, and social contexts surrounding legal abortion revealed an increasingly hostile environment toward women seeking abortion since 1973. By challenging existing abortion laws in state and federal courts, anti-abortion legislators have removed federal and state funding for abortions, including insurance coverage. States have imposed mandatory waiting periods, biased counseling and consent procedures, parental involvement and/or notification for minors, and bans on funding and insurance coverage. All of these intrusions on women's right to choose abortion have resulted in the need for more than one clinic visit and delays in obtaining abortion services. Through violence, intimidation, and harassment, pro-life activists and extremists have successfully driven medical personnel out of the practice of abortion and intimidated women seeking abortion by exposing them to fetal images, calling them "baby killers", and forcing them to believe that life begins at conception. Within this historical context, a purposive sampling of ten women, recruited via snowballing techniques, participated in repeated in-depth interviews. A multi-stage narrative strategy was used to analyze textual data. Participants' narrative summaries emphasized dismay at being pregnant, telling others, and making the decision for abortion. Women thoughtfully made the decision for abortion based on the circumstances of their lives at the time of the unintended pregnancy. Seventy percent of participants experienced abortion in the 1980s and recalled the ways in which religion, politics, and society have imposed shame, guilt, and judgement on them, constraining them from talking about their abortion experiences. Silenced, women only revealed their abortion when forced to do so by circumstances or to gain acceptance and understanding from others. Participation in the study allowed women an opportunity to talk about their abortion experiences, initiating conversations with friends, and raising consciousness.